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    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Union of Concerned Scientists warns for pollution from liquid coal fuels; new biofuels way forward

Heightened concern about oil dependence is generating growing support for alternative transportation fuels, but some fuels, like liquid coal and gasoline from tar sands would emit significantly more global warming pollution than gasoline or diesel, according to a new report issued today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In Biofuels: An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet, the UCS offers an overview of the lifecycle emissions of different alternative fuels, and two scenarios for their future role in America's transportation fuel mix. It also stresses the importance of comprehensive lifecycle analyses (LCAs) to take into account the entire emissions profile of alternative fuels.

Transportation is responsible for two-thirds of US oil consumption and nearly 40 percent of the country's global warming pollution on a life cycle basis. To dramatically cut emissions from this sector, a comprehensive solution must include improved vehicle fuel efficiency, smart growth policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled, and clean fuel alternatives.

Liquid coal, for example, can release 80 percent more global warming pollution than gasoline, the report found. Corn ethanol, conversely, could be either more polluting or less than gasoline, depending on how the corn is grown and the ethanol is produced. On average, corn ethanol can reduce emissions about 20 percent, though there is uncertainty due to differing land use practices. The cleanest alternative, cellulosic ethanol from grasses or wood chips, could reduce emissions by more than 85 percent (graph, click to enlarge). (Note that the study did not look at first generation biofuels made from tropical crops like sugarcane or sweet sorghum which reduce emissions far more than corn ethanol; for sugarcane ethanol, the reduction is as large as that of cellulosic biofuels, earlier post.)

Biofuels can quickly become a staple of a low-carbon fuel diet because they integrate well with the existing fuel distribution infrastructure and offer potentially abundant domestic supplies with significant opportunities for growth, the report says. But not all biofuels are the same. There is a wide range in the estimated heat-trapping emissions and other environmental impacts from each biofuel over its life cycle (i.e., from farm to finished fuel to use in the vehicle), depending on the feedstock, production process, and model inputs and assumptions. There are also concerns about emissions and impacts from land conversion and land use associated with biofuel production.

New rules are being developed that will require fuel providers to account for and reduce the heat-trapping emissions associated with the production and use of transportation fuels. For example, both the U.S. Congress and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are considering strategies to promote low-carbon and renewable transportation fuels (including biofuels). California, the nation's largest market for transportation fuel, is developing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard that will require fuel providers to demonstrate reductions in global warming pollution per unit of energy delivered, regardless of fuel source. More state, regional, and federal rules will undoubtedly follow, the UCS writes.

The purposes of the report are two-fold:
  1. To ensure that we “count carbs” accurately, by explaining why we need a comprehensive accounting system for carbon emissions—one that measures global warming emissions over a transportation fuel's entire life cycle. An effective accounting system will not only need to be robust enough to encompass the fuel life cycle, but also address uncertainties and allow for changes over time as better assessment tools and methods become available.
  2. To “make carbs count” by describing performance-based policies that will reward low-carbon transportation fuels for their performance and help them compete against highly polluting fuels such as liquid coal (gasoline or diesel made from coal). For example, low-carbon fuel standards require a reduction in the average amount of global warming pollution per gallon of fuel.
A market for low-carbon fuels can produce a rare convergence of business, agricultural, and environmental interests that, if pursued wisely, could represent a “win-win-win” opportunity. But the promise of a lower-carbon transportation future can only be realized through federal and state policies that “count carbs and make carbs count.”

Two scenarios
The report evaluated two scenarios for alternative fuels, one carbon-intensive — meaning that it would produce significantly more global warming pollution than burning gasoline - and the other low-carbon — meaning that it would produce significantly less. The analysis assumed that alternative fuels will replace 37 billion gallons of gasoline, about 20 percent of the fuel UCS projects Americans will consume in 2030.

In both scenarios, conventional biofuels would meet 25 percent of the demand for alternative fuels. In the carbon-intensive scenario, the remaining demand would be met by liquid coal. The carbon-intensive scenario would increase emissions by 233 million metric tons — equivalent to adding about 34 million cars to the road, the number of new cars and light trucks currently sold nationally over a two-year period. By contrast, the low-carbon scenario relies on advanced biofuels to meet 75 percent of the demand. That would cut global warming pollution by 244 million metric tons, akin to taking 35 million of today’s cars off the road:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
The report calls for a national low-carbon fuel standard that accounts for alternative fuels’ global warming emissions over their entire life cycle—from till to tailpipe — and requires them to emit less pollution than today’s petroleum-based fuels.

At the tailpipe, gasoline, liquid coal and biofuels release about the same amount of global warming pollution. But there are dramatic differences in the amount of pollution emitted by extracting a raw feedstock and refining it into a finished fuel. Biofuels can have an advantage over liquid coal and gasoline because plants capture carbon dioxide, the most common global warming gas, as they grow. But producing biofuels will generate emissions, which at the farm will vary depending on tilling practices, fertilizer use, previous land use, and the fossil fuels used to power farm equipment. At the ethanol plant, emissions will depend on the efficiency of the manufacturing process and the fuel used to power the facility. All of these factors must be considered in a full life cycle analysis.

Life cycle analysis for alternative fuels could help farmers and the biofuels industry, according to Gregg Heide of the Iowa Farmers Union.
Farmers want to help get the country off of oil. Give us some guidelines, tell us where to cut pollution, and we can do it. The coal lobby is active everywhere, even here in Iowa. It would be counterproductive if dirty fuels like liquid coal started muscling out biofuels in the alternative fuels market. - Gregg Heide, Iowa Farmers Union
Congress is now considering an energy bill that includes a renewable fuel standard giving the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to develop life cycle analysis guidelines. To date, the federal government has been promoting both cleaner and dirtier fuels. For instance, Congress has approved funding for research into next-generation ultra-clean biofuels, but it also is subsidizing research into liquid coal processing technology.
Government policies and high oil prices have whetted our growing appetite for all alternative fuels, good and bad alike. With the wrong policy, liquid coal could displace cleaner alternatives. Biofuels can be a staple of our low carbon fuel diet, but only if policies are in place that ‘count carbs’ and ‘make carbs count.’ - Eli Hopson, Washington representative for Clean Vehicles at UCS
At least one state is addressing the problem. In January, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order calling for establishing a state low-carbon fuel standard. The California Air Resources Board is currently developing regulations that would require manufacturers of transportation fuel sold in the state to reduce per gallon emissions of global warming pollution by at least 10 percent. Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington State are considering similar policies.

Counting carbs
To fully assess the global warming impact of transportation fuels, we must measure their full life cycle emissions per unit of energy delivered. This poses an analytical challenge for a number of reasons. For example, plants capture carbon dioxide (CO2, a potent heat-trapping gas) from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, but the impact of this carbon capture on biofuel emissions varies by feedstock. The global warming pollution produced by farming varies depending on the farming equipment, fertilizers, tillage practices, and perhaps most important, whether forests and grassland are converted into cropland. Even the refining process used to convert biomass into biofuels produces varying amounts of heat-trapping emissions.

Emissions may vary depending on the feedstock and refining process. Liquid coal, for example, can increase emissions more than 80 percent compared with gasoline. Gasoline produced from tar sands can increase emissions about 14 percent. Corn ethanol, depending on how it is processed, can produce higher emissions than gasoline or cut emissions more than 50 percent. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from woody plants, may be able to reduce emissions more than 85 percent.

Life cycle analysis tools such as the U.S. Department of Energy's Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model have been critical in building understanding of the full impact of transportation fuels. But there is currently no scientific consensus on a single analytical approach, particularly for biofuels. Key areas of debate include the impact of land use changes, fertilizer use and emissions, coproducts, process emissions, and uncertainties or poor data.

While life cycle models typically estimate that today's average corn ethanol cuts global warming pollution about 20 percent compared with gasoline, some researchers estimate that it may actually increase global warming pollution. Similarly, biodiesel is generally credited with a 50 percent reduction in global warming pollution, but there is also research indicating that it may increase emissions as well. In addition, biofuel production could exacerbate deforestation, generating more global warming pollution and a host of concerns about the industry's sustainability.

The key to improving our understanding and quantification of life cycle emissions is to hold transportation fuel providers responsible for their global warming pollution. Our current system provides no incentive for fuel providers to accurately measure or minimize their carbon emissions. In contrast, a system that requires providers to account for their emissions would spur increased research into life cycle analysis and provide a public process for evaluating the benefits and limitations of different analytical methods. By developing emissions standards that are periodically updated using the best data available, the market can steer fuel production toward lower-carbon pathways.

Making carbs count
Without a framework in place to lower the carbon intensity of our transportation fuels, we risk losing a precious opportunity to cut our global warming pollution substantially. We therefore need smart fuel policies such as California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which is slated to take effect as early as 2010. This standard does not “pick winners” by focusing on specific fuels, but instead relies on performance criteria that require each gallon of fuel (on an energy-equivalent basis) to meet a standard for global warming pollution that becomes more strict over time. The standard encompasses the fuel's entire life cycle, promoting carbon reduction along every link in the fuel supply chain.

Low-carbon fuel standards would also create market certainty for cleaner fuels and complement existing vehicle standards by ensuring the fuel industry does its part—along with automakers and consumers—to reduce transportation-related emissions. Other states considering such regulations include Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

At the national level, efforts are under way to incorporate heat-trapping emissions requirements into the current Renewable Fuel Standard, and several bills have been introduced in Congress that would establish a separate low-carbon fuel standard. The Bush administration is also preparing rules for reducing gasoline use that would include a low-carbon fuel component.

Patrician Monahan, "Biofuels: An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet - An Important Part of a Low-Carbon Diet", - November 13, 2007.

Union of Concerned Scientists [press release]: When Carbon Counts, Biofuels Beat Liquid Coal - New Report Details Importance of Life Cycle Analysis for Alternative Fuels - November 13, 2007.

Union of Concerned Scientists: Smart Bioenergy - dedicated webpage on the UCS's take on this type of renewable energy.

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Researchers develop efficient biohydrogen production technique based on microbial electrolysis cell

Scientists from Penn State University have developed a technique to efficiently produce hydrogen from biomass via a process based on the way microbial fuel cells (MFCs) work. Bruce E. Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering, and Shaoan Cheng, research associate, report the method in today's early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report titled 'Sustainable and efficient biohydrogen production via electrohydrogenesis' is an open access article.

The new biohydrogen production method is considerably more efficient than the electrolysis of water, which, in order to produce renewable and clean hydrogen would have to rely on electricity from solar, wind, biomass or nuclear power plants.

The new technique is capable of directly generating renewable hydrogen in an environmentally friendly way from cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials. The researchers state that, contrary to cellulosic ethanol production which makes use of agricultural residues or dedicated non-food energy crops but which is at least a decade away, the biohydrogen production method can use this abundant source of biomass already today. They suggest blending the biohydrogen with methane from natural gas or biogas as a transport fuel.

The researchers used naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC, picture, click to enlarge) with acetic acid – the acid found in vinegar. Acetic acid is also the predominant acid produced by fermentation of glucose or cellulose. The anode was granulated graphite, the cathode was carbon with a platinum catalyst, and they used an off-the-shelf anion exchange membrane. In other words, they basically set up a microbial fuel cell (more about MFCs here). The bacteria consume the acetic acid and release electrons and protons creating up to 0.3 volts. When more than 0.2 volts are added from an outside source, hydrogen gas bubbles up from the liquid.

The process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process. Water hydrolysis, a standard method for producing hydrogen, is only 50 to 70 percent efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some of the hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144 percent more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

For those who think that a hydrogen economy is far in the future, Logan suggests that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable biomass could be blended with natural gas for use in natural gas vehicles.
We drive a lot of vehicles on natural gas already. Natural gas is essentially methane. Methane burns fairly cleanly, but if we add hydrogen, it burns even more cleanly and works fine in existing natural gas combustion vehicles. - Bruce E. Logan, lead author
The range of efficiencies of hydrogen production based on electrical energy and energy in a variety of organic substances is between 63 and 82 percent. Both lactic acid and acetic acid achieve 82 percent, while unpretreated cellulose is 63 percent efficient. Glucose is 64 percent efficient.

Another potential use for microbial-electrolysis-cell produced hydrogen is in fertilizer manufacture. Currently fertilizer is produced in large factories and trucked to farms. With microbial electrolysis cells, very large farms or farm cooperatives could produce hydrogen from wood chips and then through a common process, use the nitrogen in the air to produce ammonia or nitric acid. Both of these are used directly as fertilizer or the ammonia could be used to make ammonium nitrate, sulfate or phosphate.

The researchers have filed for a patent on this work. Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. and the National Science Foundation supported the research.

According to large well-to-wheel studies, the production of hydrogen from biomass is the most efficient and cleanest production pathway out of 28 options, including hydrogen from wind, nuclear, and electricity mixes (previous post and here for a large EU-funded WTW study). For this reason, some have suggested that biohydrogen is the most feasible way of reviving the idea of the 'hydrogen economy' (earlier post).

: A microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) shown with the power source used to augment the voltage produced by the bacteria. Bacteria grow in the anode chamber, forming a biofilm on graphite granules, while hydrogen gas is released at the cathode and bubbles up and into the tube on top of the reactor. Credit: Photograph by Shaoan Cheng, Penn State University

Shaoan Cheng and Bruce E. Logan, "Sustainable and efficient biohydrogen production via electrohydrogenesis" [open access], Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0706379104, Published online before print November 13, 2007

Penn State Live: Clean, carbon-neutral hydrogen on the horizon - November 12, 2007.

Biopact: Microbial fuel cell development speeds up: from biopower in space to the developing world - September 30, 2007

Biopact: Biohydrogen, a way to revive the 'hydrogen economy'? - August 20, 2006

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GBEP calls for a Biopact: US/EU must open markets for biofuels from the South

The Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) which released its comprehensive report on the current status of bioenergy today, says the conflict between growing crops for food versus biofuels is artificial and can be resolved if the United States, Europe and other rich countries drop protectionist policies and work with developing nations to increase the use of the eco-friendly fuels. The GBEP thus joins a growing group of organisations calling for a win-win 'Biopact' between the wealthy and the developing countries.

Fears that the rising demand for biofuels is contributing to a global surge in food prices are founded, but such pitfalls can be avoided if top energy consumers invest in efficient crops grown in tropical nations, promote research and encourage the biofuel trade, said Corrado Clini, chairman of the GBEP.

FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller joined Clini in pinpointing the core of the problem:
In Europe and the United States the production of biofuels is only possible because there are tariffs. What data shows us is that the biggest potential is in the developing world. - FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller
Indeed, both Africa and Latin America have a vast potential to produce biofuels sustainably. These data are well known by now. According to the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40, these two regions alone can produce more than 500 Exajoules of bioenergy for exports by 2050, in an explicitly sustainable way; that is, after all the food, fiber and fodder needs for rapidly growing populations are met, and without any deforestation (previous post, here and a look at Africa's sustainable potential). In theory, there is no reason whatsoever for a conflict between food and fuel production.

Internationally shared rules on production could thus ensure that biofuel crops do not damage the environment by substituting forests and other sensitive ecosystems, Clini said at the World Energy Congress in Rome, a brainstorming forum that runs through Thursday. With oil prices soaring, biofuels from corn, palm oil, sugar cane and other agricultural products are increasingly seen as a cheap and cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.

Clini said that food prices are rising in part due to unfavorable climate conditions, an increasing population and a growing demand for meat and animal feed. Biofuels also are contributing to the hikes but mainly because the EU and the United States are subsidizing domestic production of crops like corn that offer low efficiency when turned into fuel and compete with other foodstuffs for large swathes of land in these already densely populated areas, Clini said.

Sugarcane-based biofuel, an approach favored by other big biofuel producers like Brazil, offers greater energy efficiency and is made with a crop that can be grown in unused lands in many tropical countries, contributing to their development, he told reporters. "It takes four times more maize than sugar cane to produce the same amount of energy," the GBEP chairman added.

Trade barriers key problem
Rich countries should invest in biofuel production in developing nations and liberalize the international trade, which is still burdened by high tariffs put in place to protect European and American farmers from the cheaper fuel produced abroad, the chairman said:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The United States and the EU are blocking attempts to significantly reduce tariffs on biofuels by including them among "environmental goods" as part of the stalled Doha round talks at the World Trade Organization.

Amid stiff opposition from farmers, American and European officials have rejected the proposal, saying that the special environmental tariff rules were reserved solely for industrial goods, and not agricultural products.

Clini noted that the EU and the United States will need imports if they are to meet ambitious goals set for biofuel use as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. Congress is examining a proposal mandating the use of 35 billion gallons, or 132 billion liters a year of "alternative" fuels, mostly ethanol, by 2017 and European leaders have decided that at least 10 percent of fuels in the bloc will come from biofuels by 2020.

Clini heads the GBEP, a group that works to develop bioenergy in G-8 countries and in five other big producers. On Tuesday, the group presented a joint report on the state of bioenergy with the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, one of the most vocal agencies in calling attention to the potential downsides of biofuels.

"In Europe and the United States the production of biofuels is only possible because there are tariffs," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Muller. "What data shows us is that the biggest potential is in the developing world."

Clini said that besides opening up to trade, rich countries should invest money used for subsidies in research on so called second-generation biofuels. He said these cellulose-based fuels can be made with a variety of plants and organic waste, eliminating at the root the conflict with food production.

International Herald Tribune: Bioenergy group criticizes U.S., European approach to biofuels - November 13, 2007.

Biopact: FAO chief calls for a 'Biopact' between the North and the South - August 15, 2007

Biopact: IEA chief economist: EU, US should scrap tariffs and subsidies, import biofuels from the South - March 06, 2007

Biopact: IEA report: bioenergy can meet 20 to 50% of world's future energy demand - September 12, 2007

Biopact: IEA study: large potential for biomass trade, under different scenarios - May 13, 2007

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006

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UK opens first large scale 30MW biomass power station

Sembcorp Industries (Sembcorp) has officially opened the UK's first large scale biomass power plant. The 30MW station is the first to produce renewable energy using naturally sustainable biomass without any input of fossil fuels. UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks, who oversees energy policy in the UK including sustainability and the environment, presided over the opening ceremony for the £64 million (€90.7/$132.5 million) biomass power station located at the Wilton International manufacturing site in Teesside in the Northeast of England.

The opening strengthens Sembcorp’s position as a first mover in green energy, as it is the first Singapore company to own and operate a biomass power plant in the UK. The plant is itself also the UK’s first large scale wood burning power station, and will use 300,000 tonnes of sustainably harvested biomass a year to generate 30 MW of electricity – enough to power 30,000 households. Moreover, the plant is the UK’s first power plant entirely fuelled by a renewable energy source, without any inputs of fossil fuels.

The biomass for the power station comes from four separate sources:
  • Recycled wood (80,000 tonnes) - this is received, stored and chipped at the UK Wood Recycling site at Wilton
  • Sawmills (80,000 tonnes) – the wood comes to the site already chipped as offcuts from sawmills
  • Managed forests (880,000 tonnes) - Sembcorp is working with the Forestry Commission of Great Britain and leading forestry company UPM Tilhill to utilise small roundwood logs from north east forests – items sometimes left on forestry floor after normal tree felling operations
  • Specially grown energy crops (55,000 tonnes) - Sembcorp is working with farmers and other landowners locally for the supply of energy crops, specifically a type of willow known as short rotation coppice. The plant would eventually require the growth of around 7,500 acres (2830 ha) of coppice in the region.
The fuels are mixed together to create hot gases, which are then passed over water to produce steam which turns a turbine to create 30MW of electricity a year to be sold to power giant EON, the UK's largest energy company.

With the plant, Sembcorp will save an estimated 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year compared with a conventional power station – the equivalent in greenhouse gas reduction terms of taking 67,000 cars off the road. The plant’s operations will also be classed as carbon neutral and will hence avail Sembcorp of unused carbon allowances to trade as carbon credits:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In addition to carbon credits, Sembcorp’s biomass power plant is also set to generate a fresh stream of revenue for Sembcorp from the power sold, as well as from Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC’s) and Levy Exemption Certificates (LEC’s).
This new biomass power plant strengthens our capabilities in producing power using different fuels. With this plant, Sembcorp now has 3,382 MW of power worldwide in operation and in development. This investment is also in line with Sembcorp’s push to provide innovative solutions to serve our customers’ utilities needs, while delivering value to our shareholders. - Tang Kin Fei, Sembcorp’s Group President and CEO
Sembcorp’s intention to build the UK’s first 100 per cent wood-to-energy power station was formally announced in March 2005. Work on the station began later that year and following commissioning, full commercial production has commenced.

The electricity generated by the plant is being sold to E.ON – the UK’s largest integrated energy company.

Sembcorp Industries: UK Energy Minister opens Sembcorp's new woodburning power station - November 12, 2007.

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Global Bioenergy Partnership issues report on current state, challenges and benefits of bioenergy

The Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) has presented its report, A review of the current state of bioenergy development in G8 +5 countries [*.pdf], today during the 20th World Energy Congress (WEC) in Rome. The analysis provides a survey of the production of energy and fuels from biomass in G8 +5 countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa), highlighting the benefits and challenges of "one of the future’s most promising alternative energy sources". The report looks at the current level of production, at policies, the market situation, trade and standards. Finally, it analyses the urgent need for the development of mechanisms to ensure sustainable production.

Interestingly, the GBEP notes that the case for a 'Biopact' remains strong:
International trade in biofuels and related feedstocks may provide win-win opportunities for some countries: for several developed countries imports are a necessary precondition for meeting the self-imposed blending targets; for several developing countries producing and exporting biofuels may provide new business opportunities and new end-markets for their agricultural products. For small and medium-sized developing countries, export markets may be necessary to initiate their industries, however, tariffs and other barriers are currently restricting trade.

This can offset lower production costs in producing countries, represent significant barriers to international trade, and have negative repercussions on investments in the sector. A more liberal trade regime would greatly contribute to the achievement of the economic, energy, environmental and social goals that countries are pursuing.
Bioenergy has rapidly emerged as a top priority on the international agenda. The GBEP builds its activities upon three strategic pillars: energy security, food security and sustainable development. It was established to implement the commitments taken by the G8 +5 Countries in the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, and was recently invited by the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm to “continue its work on biofuel best practices and take forward the successful and sustainable development of bioenergy”.

The GBEP's first comprehensive report finds that the reasons to promote the rapid growth of the sector are shared by most countries (table, click to enlarge):
  • rising oil prices and energy security considerations are forcing countries to look for alternative fuels;
  • biofuels can play a role in rural development, providing energy access to remote communities and creating employment;
  • last but certainly not least, climate change benefits that can be realized through reduction of GHG emissions
Bioenergy thus sits at the intersection of three of the world’s great challenges - energy security, climate change, and poverty reduction - and has received an enormous amount of attention in the past few years. Joint work on these issues is vital considering that together, the G8 +5 Countries account for about 55 percent of the world’s population, 70+ percent of global GDP, and about 72 percent of world energy-related and industry CO2 emissions.

According to the best data available, bioenergy provides about 10 percent of the world’s total primary energy supply (47.2 EJ of bioenergy out of a total of 479 EJ in 2005, i.e. 9.85 percent). Most of this is for use in the residential sector (for heating and cooking) and is produced locally. In 2005 bioenergy represented 78 percent of all renewable energy produced. A full 97 percent of biofuels are made of solid biomass, 71 percent of which used in the residential sector. Biomass is also used to generate gaseous and liquid fuels, and growth in demand for the latter has been significant over the last ten years (graph, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Biomass provides a relatively small amount of the total primary energy supply (TPES) of the G8 Countries (1-4 percent). By contrast, bioenergy is a significant part of the energy supply in the +5 Countries representing from 5-27 percent of TPES. China with its 9000 PJ/yr is the largest user of biomass as a source of energy, followed by India (6000 PJ/yr), USA 2300 PJ/yr, and Brazil (2000 PJ/yr), while bioenergy’s contribution in Canada, France and Germany is around 450 PJ/yr (graph, click to enlarge).

The share of 'primitive' bioenergy use in India, China and Mexico is decreasing, mostly as traditional biomass is substituted by kerosene and LPG. However the use of solid biomass for electricity production is important, especially from pulp and paper plants. Bioenergy’s share in total energy consumption is increasing in the G8 Countries especially Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The production of liquid biofuels - both biodiesel and ethanol - for transport is increasing rapidly in all countries. Brazil is leading the production of ethanol, mainly from sugarcane, whereas Germany is at the forefront of biodiesel production (graph, click to enlarge).

There are four key factors driving interest in bioenergy: rising prices for fossil fuels, in particular oil prices; energy security; climate change; and rural development. Bioenergy markets are largely policy dependent in most of the world, as the production of biofuels in most countries is not at this point competitive with fossil fuels. Nearly all countries reported that energy security and climate change are the most important drivers of their bioenergy development activities.

Policy measures
Overall there are few differences between the policy objectives of G8 Countries and the +5 Countries. Rural development is more central to the +5 Countries’ focus on bioenergy development, and this is often aligned with a poverty alleviation agenda.

Feed-in tariffs, taxes, guaranteed markets (i.e. renewable energy and fuel mandates, and preferential purchasing), compulsory grid connections, other direct supports (i.e. grants, loan guarantees, subsidies, construction incentives, etc.), and R,D&D are the principal policy mechanisms being deployed by the G8 +5 Countries to encourage bioenergy development (table, click to enlarge).

Bioenergy markets are further influenced by general energy, agriculture and forestry, climate change, and environmental policies.

Feed-in tariffs are currently the world’s most widespread national renewable energy policy and are in use in over half of the G8 +5 Countries. They are often crafted for renewable energy generally but are sometimes directed at bioenergy specifically. The feed-in tariff is the policy tool that has been most effective in stimulating renewable energy markets, however feed-in tariffs need to be differentiated by technology and biomass treated individually, in order to specifically boost bioenergy.

A variety of tax incentives and penalties are used by governments to foster bioenergy development and they are one of the most widely used support instruments. Taxes affect the cost-competitiveness of bioenergy vs. substitutes and therefore bioenergy viability in the marketplace.

National targets and public incentive systems have been effectively used in many countries, in particular for liquid biofuels for transport. Among the G8 +5 Countries, only Russia has not created a transport biofuel target. Voluntary quota systems or targets are common for biomass energy for heat, power and transport fuels in the G8 Countries, however, blending mandates enforceable via legal mechanisms are becoming increasingly utilized.

Blending targets are less established in the +5 Countries but they are under discussion or awaiting approval. Preferential purchasing by governments can also be a powerful tool when effectively implemented. In policies relating to biofuels for transport, there is a trend towards policies such as blending mandates which don’t require direct government funding, although publicly financed support remains significant.

Most countries use some form of direct loans or grants. The G8 +5 Governments are conducting research and development in their own laboratories and institutes and many are supporting public private partnerships and various forms of demonstration projects. Direct supports and R,D&D are being used in a number of G8 Countries to accelerate the commercial development of second generation biofuels for transportation.

A few governments are moving towards performance focused policies. Rather than mandate an amount of fuel to be consumed, these governments are mandating the amount of GHG reductions required. This strategy to harness market forces is rapidly gaining interest in Kyoto signatory countries that are looking for the most cost-effective GHG emission strategies.

There is a growing recognition that not all biofuels are “green.” New schemes are under way to promote sustainability as well as link funding to sustainability. The European Union and some of its member states are working toward sustainability standards to attach to mandatory targets. Brazil has created its “social seal” and has tied it to its blending mandates.
No international sustainability assurance system exists for biofuels or bioenergy more broadly. Several international processes to create such a system are underway, however, even these do not deal with all concerns due to the potential for impact shifting. This occurs when feedstock from existing fields/plantations is used for biofuels that was originally used for other applications which leads to unsustainably produced feedstocks being used, or to new plantations/fields being created, to supply these other applications. The fungibility of feedstocks, land, and other inputs for feed, fuel, and food is leading some to call for a universal framework for sustainability requirements.

Enforcement is critical to the functioning of any of these schemes. While a discussion of enforcement strategies is beyond the scope of this summary, it must be acknowledged as central. The capacity of countries to enforce protections, or even to enact them in the first place, is highly variable. In many developing countries, where much of the investment interest is focused, the pressure to reduce regulations and oversight in order to attract foreign investment is an additional challenge. These factors point to the need for international assurance systems.
Ultimately, the GBEP says, sustainability requirements will need to be agreed upon internationally, applied locally, and applied to all biomass regardless of end use if leakage effects or impact shifting is to be avoided.

Trade and standards
There is a move towards harmonization of technical standards regionally and internationally. This is vital for quality assurance, equipment compatibility, and the facilitation of trade. Historically, biomass and biofuel trade flows have been limited, as most of the production has been for domestic consumption. However, in the coming years, international trade in biofuels and feedstocks is expected to escalate rapidly to satisfy increasing worldwide demand.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) does not currently have a trade regime specific to biofuels. International trade in biofuels falls, therefore, under the rules of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994). In addition to the WTO, several regional and bilateral trade agreements, mostly involving the United States and the EU, currently regulate biofuels trade.

International trade in biofuels and related feedstocks may provide win-win opportunities for some countries: for several developed countries imports are a necessary precondition for meeting the self-imposed blending targets; for several developing countries producing and exporting biofuels may provide new business opportunities and new end-markets for their agricultural products. For small and medium-sized developing countries, export markets may be necessary to initiate their industries, however, tariffs and other barriers are currently restricting trade.

The GBEP concludes that government policies play a key role in influencing investment in bioenergy. When carefully balanced with environmental and social conditions, such policies will also determine the long-term viability of this important emerging opportunity.

In February 2007, the Global Bioenergy Partnership recommended the preparation of this Report on the current state of bioenergy development in G8 + 5 Countries as a reference platform for future work of GBEP towards the sustainable development of bioenergy. Development of the Report was guided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), under the coordination of Gustavo Best and Jeff Tschirley with the support of Astrid Agostini and Maria Michela Morese (GBEP Secretariat). The lead author of this Report is Suzanne Hunt with supporting inputs from Rudi Drigo and staff contributions on the country summaries from the Italian Ministry for the Environment Land and Sea, and UN Foundation.

Global Bioenergy Partnership: A review of the current state of bioenergy development in G8 +5 countries [*.pdf] - November, 2007.

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Lula: new oil find will have no impact on biofuel investments in Brazil

Last week, Brazil's state-owned oil firm Petrobras announced the discovery of a large offshore oil province stretching from Espírito Santo, Campos, and Santos Basins, in ultra-deep horizons, and in pre-salt rocks. Petrobras analyzed and tested the ultra-deep Tupi area in the region and said it has a recoverable reserve of between 5 to 8 billion barrels of light oil and natural gas.

According to Petrobras' president Sergio Gabrielli, the oil and natural gas field will put Brazil among the world's ten leading oil producing countries. However, some in the 'Peak Oil' community have downplayed the importance of the find, saying it only constitutes around 70 days of global oil consumption. The number of similar finds has declined steadily over the past years, and the Tupi field lies under 2,140 meters (7,060 feet) of water, more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of sand and rocks, and then another 2,000-meter (6,600-foot) thick layer of salt. Getting the oil out will be a formidable challenge. And it will take years because the petroleum is so deep under the earth's surface, meaning any impact on oil prices will not come soon. Nonetheless, for Brazil the new reserve signifies a boost to its economy.

At the same time, Brazil is also the largest producer of biofuels, with Petrobras planning to play a key role in the sector. Its ethanol industry, located in the South of the country, produces a highly efficient fuel from sugarcane, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent compared to gasoline. The question now is: will the Tupi oil field alter Brazil's biofuels investment pattern?

Answering the question during his address at Radiobrás, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said this is out of the question:
On the contrary, the matter of biofuels plays two important roles. The first one is to increase the importance of Brazil to the global energy matrix that we wish to build, in order to fight pollution in the planet. We all are aware of global warming, and we all know that petroleum is one of the causes of this problem. Therefore, we will keep on investing in biofuels. - President Lula
So how many hectares of land would Brazil have to devote to growing sugarcane if it wanted to match the energy contained in the large Tupi oil field? Let's assume 7 billion barrels can be recovered. A hectare of sugarcane yields around 6000 liters of ethanol with current conversion methods - roughly equivalent to 23 barrels of oil. Assuming that the cane fields remain productive for 50 years, Brazil would have to grow sugarcane on 6.1 million hectares of land, or 0.7 percent of the country's total area. With second generation biofuel conversion techniques, about half that area would be required.

The president referred to this logic of renewability - the fact that cane remains highly productive for decades - when hinting at Brazil's biofuel plans, which will not be slowed down. He pointed at the fact that despite the oil find, the country will also step up its efforts to lead further biofuel development in Latin America and Africa:
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The world will inevitably need to adopt a mix of biofuel into oil. We have already been mixing ethanol into it, a 25% mix is already used in Brazil. Europe has decided to mix 10% by 2020. And in January we will start mixing 2% of biodiesel into diesel oil. Afterwards, we are going to increase to five, then ten, and by the time everyone is doing it, then we will be able to reduce carbon emission, and generate millions of jobs in Brazil, Latin America and Africa, which has a huge area available for planting, and we will also help family agriculture. - President Lula
Just before the major oil find, Petrobras announced its long term strategy, which included a shift to biofuels. In a first phase, it will start approving five joint venture projects worth US$1 billion to produce ethanol from the Goias and Mato Grosso states this week, with the aim of getting 20 ethanol projects going by 2012 (previous post).

The company's strategic and business plans for the coming years include the aim to produce 4 billion liters of ethanol (equivalent to 50,000 barrels of oil per day) by 2012 for which it needs at least another 15 projects (besides the five already selected). Petrobras has been studying around 40 sugar mill projects for exports mainly to the Japanese market since early 2007.

Petrobras has also signed a series of collaboration agreements on biofuels with other (oil) companies, including Norway's Statoil (here), with India's state-owned Bharat Petroleum (here) and with Portugal's Galp Energia (earlier post).

: the Tupi oil field, located offshore in ultra-deep waters. Credit: BG Group.

Agência Petrobras de Notícias: Petrobras discovers Brazil's biggest oil-bearing area - November 8, 2007.

Agência Brasil: País não deixará de investir em biocombustível por causa de nova reserva, afirma Lula - November 12, 2007.

Biopact: Petrobras starts approving joint ventures worth $1 billion to set up 20 new ethanol plants - September 27, 2007

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Global warming is melting soft coral: extinction could mean a worldwide catastrophe impacting all marine and terrestrial life

Tel Aviv University (TAU) Professor Hudi Benayahu, a marine biologist in the Department of Zoology, has found that soft corals, an integral and important part of reef environments, are simply melting and wasting away because of climate change. He believes this could mean a global marine catastrophe. Benayahu is pessimistic and urges decision makers to make sure that attempts at saving the soft corals do not come too late. The news is yet another serious warning on how global warming and fossil fuel use is destroying reef ecosystems (previous warning on the Great Barrier Reef).

Environmental stress is damaging the symbiotic relationship between soft corals and the microscopic symbiotic algae living in their tissues. There is no doubt that global warming is to blame, warns the marine biologist, explaining that this symbiotic relationship is key for the survival of most soft corals.

Benayahu, who is also head of TAU's Porter School of Environmental Studies, explains soft corals help maintain the health and balance of reef ecosystems and provide protection to numerous animals. They are also a rich and promising source of life-saving drugs against cancer and deadly infectious diseases.
It's too late. We have now actually missed the boat in finding some key pharmaceuticals. There is a huge gap in our knowledge of soft corals in the reef environment, and with the rate of extinction, we have lost certain species forever. - Prof. Hudi Benayahu
We may never recover certain therapeutic drugs, and humans could not live with a wide-spread extinction of marine life, he points out. Life as we know it could not exist if the marine environment, an important producer of oxygen, continues to follow this course.

Unlike their harder brethren, soft corals have no stony calcified outer skeleton to protect them. When they die, they are gone for good, leaving no trace of their existence. Where soft corals were once found in about 50-60 percent of Prof. Benayahu’s study sites around the globe, a few years later he is finding that only about 5 percent remain:
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Earlier this year, Prof. Benayahu observed of a Japanese soft coral reef, “There was a massive disappearance of soft corals. You can't imagine this was the same site. Just two years passed and the entire area was deserted, lifeless."

But there is still hope. Prof. Benayahu recently returned from Phuket, Thailand, where he gave a training workshop to international students on the biology of soft corals. Future marine biologists from countries such as Australia, China, India, Malaysia, Israel and Thailand participated. The workshop was intended to increase awareness of what could be a global environmental catastrophe. “I am hoping that these young scientists will take what they learned to better understand how they can save soft corals back in their home countries,” says Prof. Benayahu

With more than 35 years experience in the field, Prof. Benayahu is one of a handful of world experts who devotes his life to the taxonomy, ecology and biology of soft corals. He has discovered dozens of new soft coral species across the entire Indo-Pacific region, and he carefully studies with his students the role these species play in the reef environment. He has received numerous grants to support his work, including one from the National Geographic Society to study marine life and soft corals on shipwrecks.

: Cladiella, a common soft coral found on reefs. The photo shows a colony that, suffering from high temperatures, has partially lost its symbiogic algae and is in danger of disappearing. Credit: Tel Aviv University.

Tel Aviv University: TAU Professor Finds Global Warming Is Melting Soft Coral - October 18, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists warn for acid oceans - could erode Great Barrier Reef - October 17, 2007

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